Plan to use frozen Russian cash to rebuild Ukraine blocked by UK government

Frontbench objected to proposed bill and it is unlikely to be debated again before parliament ends

Chris Bryant speaks at a press conference in London. EPA
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A bill that would allow the government to seize Russian cash frozen in UK bank accounts and use it to rebuild war-torn Ukraine has been blocked from progressing through the House of Commons.

Labour MP Chris Bryant sponsored the proposals, but they were denied a second reading in the Commons.

The Seizure of Russian State Assets and Support for Ukraine Bill was aimed at ensuring that Russian assets in the UK, currently frozen as the war in Ukraine continues, were used to support the country.

The private member’s bill would give ministers a 60-day deadline to come up with plans for seizing the cash to support Ukraine.

But the government frontbench objected to it, and MPs will now be unlikely to debate it again before the current session of parliament ends in the autumn.

Labour former minister Mr Chris had urged the government not to block his bill as the Commons Friday sitting aimed at debating backbenchers’ lawmaking proposals began.

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The Rhondda MP told the Commons: “As I understand it, the government is toying — but hasn’t perhaps made a final decision on this — with objecting. If a single person objects, then it doesn’t go forward for its second reading today.

“I gather that the government’s briefing to the press overnight says that the reason that they might object is because it is not suitable for such a measure to be introduced in a private member’s bill, even though it has cross-party support from lots of Conservative members and chairs of two prominent select committees, both of whom are Conservatives.”

Deputy Commons speaker Rosie Winterton confirmed the bill was “orderly” and added: “It is not appropriate for me to offer a view about whether a private member’s bill is an appropriate vehicle for his objectives — that is a matter for the House.

“But I can confirm that such bills have been used for a variety of purposes as he describes and obviously we will wait to see what happens later.”

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When the government did later object to allowing the bill to progress for further scrutiny, Mr Bryant said he was “genuinely astounded” and furious with ministers.

After claiming he would “continue to press this”, he claimed the government would “end up introducing something very similar, very soon”.

The Rhondda MP’s comments raised the heckles of Tory grandee Christopher Chope, who said: “I don’t think I have ever heard such an inappropriate comment from a senior member of this House.

“He knows jolly well what the rules are. He only printed his bill on Thursday. There is no explanatory notes in relation to it, and he is expecting his bill to be able to take priority over all the other bills just because he thinks a lot of himself and he thinks he has got a good cause.

“Lots of us have got good causes but we don’t argue the toss with the rules.”

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Ministers have previously insisted that seizing frozen Russian assets would be difficult to enact.

A cross-party group of MPs urged the government to adopt its proposals to repurpose cash from Russian oligarchs while debating the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill in January.

At the time, security minister Tom Tugendhat stressed he had had “long conversations” with representatives from other western governments about seizing the Russian cash, but no country had yet come up with a legally sound solution for how to claim it.

Updated: February 24, 2023, 11:35 PM